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Distance Learning with MMAO

Jun 11
2020
by Kai Staats

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AWB Update -  In April the MMAO Astronomy Teacher Ambassadors moved to distance learning.  Read about their challenges and how they have engaged their students in the following posts:

April 19, 2020  Mponda, Elineema, Zacharia, and Kai met today for the weekly MMAO Ambassadors team call. The focus of our call today was distance learning, and how best to engage the students at the respective schools there are so many challenges.  

Mponda relates that his daughter was given a “holiday education” package by her school before departing a few weeks ago. She has tasks to accomplish, but there is no interaction with other students, and as such is a bit isolated. A combination of the work packages and on-line interactions will be a good balance.

The teachers are without pay since the start of March, and no promise of future pay this quarter. The students are at home. While most Tanzanian’s have cell phones, most are not smart phones. Ailanga is a bit different, with maybe 80% of the students’ parents having smart phones, but almost no one has a computer. And then there is the issue of internet bundles, the cost of being on-line. Most everyone has Gmail in order to use Android, but email is not commonly used for communication and usually goes without response.

Teaching faculty are pressing upon the school management to develop distance learning programs. But as the schools do not have a means to reach the students other than by calling their parents, progress has been slow. Despite no pay and these high barriers, Zacharia at Ailanga and Elineema at Makumira have succeeded in reaching out to many of their respective students.

They have used WhatsApp to reach the handful of students with whom they were already in contact, who in turn reached out to many more. As such, Zacharia now has more than 50 students in a WhatsApp group where he engages them in suggested reading, studies, and homework assignments. When complete, they send cell phone photographs over WhatsApp. So far, this is working but it gets a bit complex as the number of engaged students grows.

In our call we explored various platforms used worldwide for team meetings and distance learning: WhatsApp, Zoom, Slack, and managed web pages. I added new user accounts for Mponda, Elineema, and Zacharia at mmao.space such that they now maintain their own pages where they can post PDFs, images, reading content, and a link for delivering homework.

For their own homework, the Ambassadors are going to explore Slack and build upon the web page foundation we build during our Skype session.

As we refine our systems and methods, we’ll update here, at MMAO space.

April 22, 2020 Hi! I’m Zacharia Mjungu, a Teacher from Ailanga and one of the MMAO Ambassadors and a frontier of this unique opportunity of creating a distance learning program initiative.

Thank you! everyone for supporting this initiative through your donations.

I understand this is the hardest moment for everyone around the world. But I’m so happy for what I have been doing together with other MMAO ambassadors who are teachers to help our students for the past one month aft r the school’s lockdown in the country due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

It was not something easy to do it because we didn’t have their contact information and others don’t have phones or computers and those who are living in remote areas where there is no access to the internet. Also, many of us are left without pay especially those who are working on private schools but this was not a barrier to us that we can’t do something to help our students. We decided to use the little resources we have to buy internet bundles and buy some food supplies at least to make life going and where hopping for the best.

Despite the challenges that we face for not having enough supporting resources to sustain ourselves and reach more of our students and teachers but still, we managed to keep momentum and keep few of our students engaged through SMS, WhatsApp and in some cases Skype and emails by providing them homework and online discussions for those who have smartphones or computers and have access to the internet.

We came to the point that, we need to broaden the program to reach as many students and teachers in our schools and beyond. Now we’re working through MMAO website by creating a distance learning page and a Google drive and set standards on how best should be done on giving and receiving feedback more easily from students back to teachers for review, marking and record-keeping and also reaching more students and teachers by keeping them engaged.

Thank you again for your generosity and God bless you!

April 27, 2020  This Sunday we held our weekly Skype meeting, a routine maintained since October 2019. In this call we reviewed the status of each MMAO Ambassador’s effort to reach their students.

In all, they have engaged more than 400 students across four schools. Those students from private schools are more likely to have access to cell phones and internet. The public schools serve principally local students who may or may not be reached by means of the internet. Therefore, we are now designing printed “home packages” which can be delivered to the students, of course with precaution taken for COVID-19

Mponda is working with Zacharia rapidly develop MMAO web pages to host the homework assignments for each of the Ambassadors and their respective schools. Coupled with Google Forms, we have a means to deliver and receive assignments.

Finally, today, $1050 of the funds raised to date were delivered via Western Union and will be distributed tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28. It is our goal to raise at least this amount again, to offer the Ambassadors and their families financial support for the month of May.

View Kai's web blog page here.

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    About Telescopes to Tanzania

    Telescopes to Tanzania (TtT) brings scarce educational resources to this developing country in east Africa. The emphasis now is on building the Centre for Science Education and Observatory in Usa River, Tanzania.

    Program Goals

    • Visit schools throughout Tanzania
    • Train teachers to teach hands-on, inquiry based science
    • Teach students
    • Train government education officers in understanding science teaching and scientific concepts
    • Bring more NEW science curricula to schools throughout Tanzania

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